Court ruling 'won't slow high-speed rail project'

Rail authority executive says

A court ruling ordering the California High-Speed Rail Authority to rewrite portions of its environmental review for the proposed 800-mile line will not delay the controversial construction project, a top rail authority official said Thursday.

Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the rail authority, said Wednesday's ruling by a Sacramento County judge generally affirmed the agency's choice of Pacheco Pass as the preferred alternative for the rail line.

"Fundamentally, the judge agreed with our environmental work and our selection of the Pacheco Pass," Morshed told the Weekly.

"The things the judge asked us to take a look at are relatively small items that we can accommodate."

Though the ruling will require the rail authority to revisit its environmental impact report and add information, Morshed said it will not change the agency's timeline for the $40 billion project.

The ruling, issued by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny, found that the rail authority inadequately described a portion of the $40 billion project and that its strategies for mitigating the vibration impact of the trains were "not supported by substantial evidence."

But the court also found that the authority "studied a reasonable range of alternatives and presented a fair and unbiased analysis" before it chose Pacheco Pass, which includes the Caltrain corridor in the Peninsula, over the Altamont Pass in East Bay.

The ruling was a response to a lawsuit filed by Menlo Park, Atherton and a coalition of transportation and environmental groups, with a "friend of the court" brief filed by Palo Alto.

Kenny also ruled that the rail authority should have recirculated the environmental report after it learned that Union Pacific Railroad opposes sharing its right-of-way with the rail line.

Plaintiffs heralded the ruling as a major setback for the controversial project.

But Morshed said the rail agency has already been operating under the assumption that it wouldn't be using Union Pacific's right-of-way. The rail agency has been looking at other options, including the use of properties adjacent to Union Pacific's right-of-way, he said.

"As we started the project-level environmental impact report, we've been considering other options with this alignment consistent with the Union Pacific objections," Morshed said.

"We're working on solutions not requiring Union Pacific's right-of-way."

Tom Lange, a spokesman for Union Pacific, told the Weekly Thursday that the company is not opposed to the concept of a high-speed rail system. But the proposed high-speed system would not be compatible with Union Pacific's freight trains.

The high-speed rail would allow its passenger trains to reach speeds as high as 220 mph in rural regions, or up to 125 mph when it passes through dense areas such as the Peninsula. The high speeds would create a safety hazard if the two rail services had to share space, Lange said.

"Our right-of-way is not compatible with the high-speed rail," he said.

Morshed said the rail authority is currently negotiating with Union Pacific on areas where the high-speed rail would have to pass next to Union Pacific tracks.

He said the rail agency could continue its work on its various "project-level" environmental impact reports (including one for the San Francisco-to-San Jose section and other segments of the line) at the same time as it's making the court-mandate updates to the "program-level" environmental impact report, which addresses the entire system.

The project-level reviews are already addressing some of the court's concerns, Morshed said. As a result, the mandated changes to the program-level environmental review should not take long, he said.

"Whatever work the judge is going to ask us to do can be done concurrently with the project-level work," Morshed said. "Fundamentally, the judge agreed with our environmental analysis and our selection of the Pacheco Pass."

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Like this comment
Posted by Freight Watcher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 28, 2009 at 1:02 pm

This morning I heard testimony at the Peninsula Cities Coalition that Granite Rock is the primary freight shipper on the UP line with their northbound cement. I's incredulous that millions of Californians may be denied a modern rail transportation system by two corporations, UP and Granite, profiting from 19th century exploitive technology.
Robber Barons!

Like this comment
Posted by P.A. Native
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 28, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Don't forget the obstructionists! They're to be thanked for bogging this thing down with what now can be called the PaloMenloAtherton process.

Like this comment
Posted by Betty
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 28, 2009 at 2:58 pm

Anybody see the similarities between ENRON and HSR?

ENRON built a dominant billion dollar business on self-serving statements, lies, manipulation, and exploitation. It took years to discover their deceitful practices and for the 'chickens to come home to roost.' Unfortunately, Palo Alto paid up before ENRON's total failure.

Rod Diridon and High-Speed Rail deceived California voters with half-truths and deceptive statements to get the vote they wanted and suck the federal government into some funding. But 'what goes around, comes around.' Look for California HSR to get mired in lawsuits proving HSR is predicated upon grossly deceptive practices. As the onion is legally peeled down to its rotten core, HSR will gradually recede into the shadows with the fallen ENRON.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by TheTruth
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2009 at 6:23 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by mSkehan
a resident of Hoover School
on Aug 30, 2009 at 9:17 am

mSkehan is a registered user.

If a nation can build a pipeline hundreds of feet wide, that bisects a state larger than Texas just to get at a few more decades of precious oil, than surely we can figure a way to get from LA to Frisco on a high speed train without the state coming unglued. It doesn't have to be 220 mph trains in a deep tunnel or high trestle to fit into the landscape, and minimuze the noise and visual impact.
Get over your worst nightmares, roll up your sleeves, and think about California 50 years from now, when gas is something we used to have when my parents were kids.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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